Lessons from Dorian: Oil, Water Still Don’t Mix

Oil company Equinor says it has a team working at its Bahamas terminal including an advanced onshore response team with oil spill technical specialists. Photo: Equinor

When we drill, we spill. And when we spill oil offshore, we tarnish our oceans with a disgusting, dirty stain.

It’s been an eventful week for North Carolina as the eastern part of the state recovers from Hurricane Dorian. While the storm wreaked havoc on Ocracoke and Hatteras Island among other parts of the Outer Banks, islands in the Bahamas withstood the brunt of the destruction as winds reached a peak speed of over 200 mph. As the storm made its way north, its ferocity lessened, but its legacy has had ripple effects that continue to be felt today.

Jean-Luc Duvall speaks during a rally Environment North Carolina held earlier this year in Raleigh regarding the nomination of David Bernhardt as Interior Secretary and to further educate the public on the plans for offshore drilling. Photo contributed

The Norwegian oil company, Equinor, has revealed that the storm blew off the dome lids of five of their crude oil storage facilities located on Grand Bahama, holding an estimated 1.8 million barrels of oil (equivalent to 75.6 million gallons). As the storm passed, the winds also swept up oil in its wake, which was deposited in the surrounding area upwards of 400 meters away from the facilities.

Even though the facilities were built to withstand Category 5 hurricanes like Dorian, the lids were designed to come off, as a spokeswoman for the port explained this scenario is better than the lids falling into the tanks themselves. Equinor claims that none of the oil has made it out to sea, but with cleanup efforts still underway, this remains to be seen.

Now why should this concern North Carolinians? Well, I am glad you asked.

In January 2018, the Department of the Interior released a proposal that would open up the entire coastline to oil extraction and environmental degradation. Drilling will not only threaten the way of life of our coastal communities and the wildlife they live in harmony with, but also endanger the recreation industry that brings in valuable tourism revenue for the state every year.

Currently, the DOI’s proposal has been indefinitely sidelined after the new Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt reported that a recent ruling from a federal judge has “discombobulated” the administration’s efforts. However, the next and potentially final proposal for offshore drilling could be released at a moment’s notice, despite efforts in the nation’s capital to prohibit the activity.

Last week, H.R. 1941 Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act passed in the House (238-189) with three votes in support from North Carolina’s delegation made by Representatives Adams, Butterfield and Price. The bill prohibits the leasing of tracts in the regions proposed for oil and gas leasing, including the Atlantic Coast, and comes as a direct response to the overwhelming opposition demonstrated by citizens up and down the coast, from Maine to Florida.

In North Carolina alone, over 29 mayors, 200 community groups and local businesses, bipartisan congressional representatives, the Governor, and thousands of concerned citizens have spoken out to oppose these plans. Local resolutions have been passed in municipalities and counties to prohibit the development of onshore infrastructure and underwater piping that offshore rigs would rely upon to transport oil, in addition to the prohibition of seismic testing which must take place during the exploration phase of the extraction process.

However, earlier this year, we lost one of our strongest advocates for protecting our coast. Congressman Walter Jones from North Carolina’s 3rd district passed away this past February, and he was well known for his stance against offshore drilling; he even co-introduced the Defend Our Coast Act as one of his last actions in office. His seat was recently filled by Dr. Greg Murphy, a Greenville urologist who won the special election for the district by a margin of 62-37.

Dr. Murphy was sworn in earlier this week, and he faces a short time in office before he has to file to retain the seat that is up for reelection next fall. Murphy has yet to issue a public statement as to his stance regarding offshore drilling, despite the fact that the question has been raised repeatedly during his campaign for the seat.

Time and time again, we have seen the impacts of extreme weather on oil and gas infrastructure. The Southern Environmental Law Center published a report last fall highlighting the dangers and risks of constructing gas and oil infrastructure in hurricane prone regions. In particular, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which struck the same region within the span of a month, destroyed 115 oil platforms, damaged 558 pipelines, and spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf. Furthermore, the ongoing Taylor Energy spill was caused by an underwater landslide triggered by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The landslide capsized the platform, bankrupted the company through cleanup efforts, and continues to leak between 10,000 and 30,000 gallons of oil every day with no end in sight.

As North Carolina has withstood a seemingly incessant barrage from hurricanes in recent years, specifically Hurricanes Florence, Michael, and Matthew which have now been compounded by Dorian, any proposals to begin the process of oil extraction should come as a nonsensical notion.

Here in North Carolina, we must draw a line in the sand and say no to offshore drilling, and it starts by calling on our newly-elected Representative Murphy to preserve the tradition of protecting our coasts laid out by his predecessor. It is simply not worth jeopardizing our beaches, shores and coastal communities for the pursuit of oil we increasingly don’t need.

About the Author

Jean-Luc Duvall

Jean-Luc Duvall is the campaign organizer for Environment North Carolina’s efforts to block the Department of the Interior’s proposed plans for offshore drilling. As part of the Don’t Drill NC coalition, Environment North Carolina has worked to educate the public on the issue through documentary screenings, rallies, and polling research.